“When we praise a poet,” says T.S. Eliot, too often we isolate out those aspects of his verse which resemble least anyone else’s—which depart most surely from his predecessors. In “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Eliot challenges the critic’s inclination to “pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man,” and fixate upon this singularity “with satisfaction” Truth be told, no artist “has his complete meaning alone,” for his significance is indissolubly tied to “his relation to the dead poets and artists”. To gain fulsome appreciation of his achievement, you “must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead”. When we rid ourselves of the penchant for originality and invention in favor of situating the new in the stream of tradition, we may just find that “not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.”
Join Dr. Joshua Hren as he hosts a seminar on former NEA Chairman, California Poet Laureate, and Catholic public intellectual Dana Gioia’s long poem “The Underworld.” The poem, written under the influence of Book VI of Virgil’s Aeneid, Seneca’s The Madness of Hercules (which Gioia has translated), Ovid’s myth of Orpheus, and Dante’s Inferno, nonetheless possesses an utterly contemporary idiom, and pictures an underworld defined by a peculiar blend of bureaucracy and mystery which may be more hellish than any of the monsters made by his predecessor poets.